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Study: Mammography ‘Definitely’ Saves Lives

March 22, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Although improved treatments have significantly improved breast cancer survival rates even when the disease is detected late, screening mammograms still save lives, according to a Dutch study.

The researchers revealed their findings Wednesday at the Eighth European Breast Cancer Conference in Vienna. Rianne de Gelder, a PhD student and researcher at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, presented the paper.

“The effectiveness of breast cancer screening has been heavily debated in the last couple of years,” de Gelder said, as quoted in a news release from the European CanCer Organisation. “One of the arguments that critics have is that, since breast cancer patients can be treated so effectively with adjuvant therapy, the relative effects of screening become smaller and smaller.

“Our study shows that, even in the presence of adjuvant therapy, mammography screening [of women between age 50 and 75] is highly effective in reducing breast cancer deaths—and, in fact, is slightly more effective than adjuvant treatment.”

She concluded:

Screening women of these ages should definitely continue. In addition, if screening could be started before the age of 50, the breast cancer mortality could be further reduced, even when breast cancer patients are effectively treated by adjuvant therapy.

The researchers used a computer modeling technique called microsimulation. It calculated that adjuvant therapy reduced breast cancer deaths by 13.9 percent in 2008. It also found that mammography screening every two years reduced deaths by an additional 15.7 percent among women ages 50–75.

Extending screening to women in their 40s would reduce deaths by a further 5.1 percent, the microsimulation found. Suggested de Gelder:

Policymakers should investigate further the ideal age for starting screening, taking into account not only the effects but also the risks and costs of extending the lower age limits.

She did note that the study could not explain all of the observed reduction in breast cancer deaths in The Netherlands. She speculated that other improvements in diagnosis and treatment, besides screening and adjuvant therapy, might be responsible.

“It may also be possible,” she said, “that the effects of screening and adjuvant treatment are even larger than currently assumed in the model.”

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography (just released)

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